Recent article in Chicago Tribune on how this uncertainty with the budget is affecting Illinois’ nonprofits.
The Arc of Illinois is quoted below.
State budget gridlock straining Illinois’
With no plan in sight, nonprofits that care
for the needy are ‘very concerned’
BY BONNIE MILLER RUBIN AND KIM GEIGER CHICAGO TRIBUNE
MICHAEL NOBLE JR./CHICAGO TRIBUNE Clayton Residential Home relies on state funds
to are for clients like Jose Centen, from left, Elijah Harrison, Sharon Watkins and Robert Robinson.
Every year, they sign petitions, call their lawmakers and head to Springfield to fend off spending cuts. And every year, they somehow manage to squeeze the belt a little tighter, step up fundraising and eke out another 12 months of pinched survival.
But when state government began its new financial year last Wednesday with no budget in place, the stakes got even higher for the private, largely nonprofit organizations that operate much of Illinois’ network of social services.
Without a budget, Illinois now lacks the authority to keep checks flowing to the nonprofit groups that deliver services to the poor, elderly and disabled. Meanwhile, the groups also must brace for the possibility that an eventual budget deal might provide far less than what they need to keep afloat.
“This is the worst situation I’ve seen in 22 years,” said Tony Paulauski, executive director of the Arc of Illinois, a statewide organization that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Paulauski said he’s been fielding calls from organizations “very concerned” about their ability to survive. His own office has had to cut three programs, including one that helps people transition from institutions into less costly community settings.
“I’ve built my career at the Arc, training people on how to advocate for themselves and navigate the system. Now that’s all being ripped apart,” Paulauski said.
The situation is rooted in a broader political battle playing out at the Capitol. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly have spent recent months talking past each other, with Rauner insistent on passage of a politically charged legislative agenda and Democrats refusing to give it to him. Democratic leaders instead sent the governor a spending plan that was more than $3 billion short of available revenues, which Rauner vetoed days before the new budget year began.
Democrats are now pushing for a temporary budget to keep essential services funded through July, but Rauner opposes the idea.
There’s still time for the situation to be resolved before many organizations have to cut staff or deny services. That’s because state payments are made on a delay, meaning checks for services provided in June should make it to providers in July.
Still, the political gamesmanship has left providers hanging in uncertainty.
“Some providers don’t know whether they’re going to get paid (for services provided after July 1, or if they should go on faith and weather the storm,” said Heather O’Connell, of Thresholds, the state’s largest provider of mental health services. “It’s a horrible situation, and it’s bad business. It’s terribly sad that our political leaders are putting us in this situation. They need to come to together and work this out.”
The budget stalemate coincides with the most high-need time of the year for Alternatives Inc., which provides a range of youth programming citywide, including for Chicago Public Schools. Executive Director Judy Gall said that her agency had to make a decision to hold summer camp before it knew what would happen with the current showdown between the governor and the legislature.
“We opted to go ahead, but I hope we won’t regret this,” Gall said.
The agency did calculations and will be OK for the short term, she said, “but if the budget doesn’t get settled, we will have to cut programming at the start of the school year.”
The current money drought adds to existing financial troubles for the social safety net, which has been unraveling since long before Rauner arrived on the scene.
Illinois takes in tens of billions of dollars in tax money each year, but much of it must be spent on pension payments and debt service. Local governments are also entitled to a share. After those expenses have been taken off the top, the remainder is what’s left for lawmakers and the governor to decide how to spread around.
Large chunks go to prisons and schools, leaving little room to spend elsewhere without going into the red. That means the departments that fund key social service programs — from subsidized day care to in-home care for the disabled and mental health care — face a yearly fight to maintain their share of state dollars and stave off cuts.
“There’s only so much you can do,” said Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, a top budget negotiator.“They have been taking disproportionate cuts for many years because of the circumstances of our budget.”
State general fund spending on the three main agencies that handle the safety net has hovered around $5 billion for much of the past decade, which critics say is not enough to keep up with inflation.
Currently, Illinois has 22,000 people waiting for help and ranks 47th in funding those services, which can range from housing to medication management and transportation assistance, according to the State of the States, a project of the University of Colorado that tracks public spending for programs to address intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Illinois also ranks third nationwide for number of people living in state institutions, despite the fact that community care is more cost-effective: $53,000 per person annually versus $248,000 per year for institutionalization, according to the Department of Human Services.
Carl LaMell, CEO of Clearbrook, said state support for programs like his Arlington Heights facility, which houses about 340 residents with disabilities, has been steadily chipped away.
“Every year, we’re pawns in this game,” said LaMell, noting that this will be the 10th consecutive year without a rate or cost of living increase.
Whatever happens, Clearbrook will still be in business, but serving fewer people, LaMell said. “We’ll have to send residents home — if they still have parents who are living or not too old to care for them,” LaMell said. “Otherwise, we’ll have no choice but to send them back to the state. People have placed their sons and daughters with us for peace of mind. And now they’re going to be uprooted? It’s just morally wrong.”
The story is much the same for those struggling with mental illness, said Jessica Lyke, director of Clayton Residential Home on the North Side, which supports more than 200 people who have been discharged from psychiatric hospitals but are not yet stable enough to live on their own. Clayton’s daily rate is $118 per day, mostly reimbursed from the Social Security and Medicaid benefits of clients. The organization has tightened its belt by cutting supplies and menu offerings. That, along with the ability to tap a line of credit, means it can hang on through the summer. But its biggest expense is payroll, a line item Lyke said she will not touch.